Federal and state governments have asked Australia's National Packaging Covenant Council to come up with solutions to the nation's massive use of plastic grocery bags, and two politicians have introduced bills for a levy on bags.
At a recent meeting of the Environment Protection & Heritage Council in Sydney, the group's director, David Kemp, asked NPCC to develop measures to reduce the estimated 6 billion plastic bags used annually by Australians.
The five-year National Packaging Covenant, which is overseen by the council, was introduced by federal and state environment ministries in 1999 to reduce the environmental impact of consumer packaging, close the recycling loop and introduce sustainable recycling collection systems.
Kemp said that, while progress has been made, stronger action is needed. Greens Sen. Bob Brown and independent House of Representatives politician Peter Andren in September introduced bills proposing a plastic bag levy, while Ron Clarke, chairman of the Council for the Encouragement of Philanthropy, proposed a voluntary levy.
The EPHC has asked the covenant council to consider a range of options, including a levy.
The council also agreed to create a working party of officials and relevant industry and community representatives to find options for reducing the impact of nondegradable shopping bags.
Since the covenant was introduced, Australian packaging companies' support has increased dramatically, with signatories climbing from 36 in November 1999 to 520 by July 1. Kemp said retailers will ``play a big part in framing the way forward.''
``They are in an ideal position to raise customer awareness on plastic bag issues and to encourage more environmentally responsible behavior in the use and disposal of bags,'' he said.
Gavin Williams, the Melbourne-based NPC's chief executive officer, said the self-regulatory covenant is unique to Australia and has been successful so far.
Signatories include plastics manufacturers and suppliers such as Melbourne-based packaging giants Amcor Ltd. and ACI Plastics Packaging, Sydney-based Coca-Cola Amatil (Aust) Pty. Ltd., and Australian industry associations such as the Plastics & Chemicals Industry Association.
ACI Plastics Packaging is one of Australia's largest rigid plastics makers. It is a division of ACI Operations Pty. Ltd., a unit of Owens-Illinois Inc. in Toledo, Ohio.
Initiatives include increasing recyclable packaging use and new collection systems, Williams said.
The covenant is based on ``product stewardship,'' in which participants cooperate to manage waste throughout product life cycles.